Monthly Archives

April 2014

Design Published

Design Classic: Jens Risom Collection

April 20, 2014

Jens Risom’s 1942 designs for Knoll were born out of wartime necessity but went on to become signature midcentury modern designs.

Full article here.

Jens Risom’s furniture collection was the first designed for and manufactured by Knoll. Originally known as the 600 Series, it quickly put the new furniture company on the map, and remains one of its most popular designs to this day.

Born in Denmark, Risom left for the United States in 1938. Soon after settling in New York, he met Hans Knoll, who was a year older and had been in the United States a year longer than Risom. The two quickly bonded, aware of the gap in the American furniture market and ambitious to fill it with quality design. “There was no furniture, nothing to be had…everybody was anxious to buy everything they could get their hands on,” Risom recalls.

The two embarked on a mission to create simple, inexpensive furniture for American consumers. The resulting collection made two of the few materials widely available during wartime—surplus army webbing and parachute straps—and wrapped them around a supple, curving wooden frame. Aided by Knoll’s entrepreneurial prowess, the collection was quickly became a mainstream staple of office furnishing. But the lounges, armchairs and stools, which made up the collection, also proved immediately successful with broader American audiences eager for simple and functional design.

Risom didn’t have much time to enjoy his successes; drafted in 1943, he spent two and a half years in the army. When he returned, he found there was little room left for him at Knoll. In this time, Hans had married Florence Schust, who, according to Risom, “was a brilliant designer but was not as impressed with the Scandinavian wood furniture as she was the metal furniture from Mies and Saarinen.” Nevertheless, Knoll continued producing the collection without Risom’s name attached to it. In the late 1990s the collection was reintroduced under his name, capturing the attention of a new generation of design enthusiasts.

Design Published

Design Classic: Eames House Bird

April 17, 2014

The small decorative black bird is considered one of the most famous Eames pieces, even though it wasn’t designed by Eames at all.

Full story here.

The story of the Eames House Bird is less a story of Charles and Ray Eames and more one of Charles and Edna Perdew. This husband and wife team from Henry, Illinois, passed on their gun repair business to their son in the 1930s and dedicated themselves to carving and painting bird decoys for hunters. A simple black bird Perdew carved around 1910 became a highly sought-after model by quite a different audience in the 1950s, primarily for its minimal shape and dark color. It was popularized by Charles and Ray Eames, who acquired one on their travels in the Appalachian mountains. The wooden bird became a center piece of the Eames living room and soon started to make an appearance in many of their product photo-shoots. It can even be seen in a 1952 cover of the Architectural Review, a solid shape among a grid created by Eames chairs.

Realizing the broad appeal of this simple decorative piece, Vitra has recently started reproducing them by creating 3D scans of the original. However, unlike Perdew’s versions, which were mostly carved out of pine, the Vitra version is made of solid alder with a black lacquer finish and steel wire legs. Its reappearance has brought the little black bird back to many mid-century inspired homes, where it often perches on top of furniture, elegant and unobtrusive at the same time.

Design Published

Design Classic: Eero Saarinen’s Womb Chair

April 7, 2014

A look at Eero Saarinen’s Womb chair, an icon of midcentury modern design.

Full article here.

Unlike Harry Bertoia, who created a single collection, Eero Saarinen produced numerous designs for Knoll that became inextricably linked to the history of the famous furniture company.

Saarinen designed the Womb chair in 1946 at the request of Florence Knoll, whom he met at the Cranbrook Academy of Art. “I told Eero I was sick and tired of the one-dimensional lounge chair…long and narrow…” Knoll said, “I want a chair I can sit in sideways or any other way I want to sit in it.”

Saarinen rose to this challenge and created a chair that proved comfortable in a number of different positions. Originally named No. 70, it soon became known as the Womb chair because of its comfortable, organic appearance. “It was designed on the theory that a great number of people have never really felt comfortable and secure since they left the womb,” Saarinen explained.

Apart from its novel appearance, the Womb chair is also highly innovative from a structural perspective. Saarinen wanted to construct the chair out of a single piece of material, and achieved this by experimenting with new materials and techniques drawn from the shipbuilding industry. The final result—a padded and upholstered fiberglass shell that sits on a polished chrome steel frame—combined simplicity of shape with true comfort and flexibility.

Initially released in 1948, the Womb chair quickly became a cultural icon. A 1958 Coca-Cola advertising campaign showed Santa Claus drinking a Coke in a Womb chair. The chair also made an appearance in a New Yorker cartoon as well as a Saturday Evening Post cover by Norman Rockwell.

“Every object, whether large or small, has a relationship with its context,” Saarinen said in 1958. “Perhaps the most important thing I learned from my father was that in any design problem, one should seek the solution in terms of the next largest thing. If the problem is an ashtray, then the way it relates to the table will influence its design. If the problem is a chair, then its solution must be found in the way it relates to the room.” The sculptural form of the Womb chair effortlessly achieves this balance, matching any interior while still drawing the eye to its colors and curves. Today, the Womb chair seems like an almost ubiquitous addition to any midcentury-inspired home. Click through the slideshow to view houses we’ve featured in Dwell in which the Womb chair is a fixture.